in the beginning…

Bread. Okay! And some cheese. Do we need more? I don't think so. Pizza maybe. But pizza is bread. And cheese. So we're covered.

I started baking bread after I (re)started Weight Watchers about three years ago, which makes sense in some alternate universe I guess. I've always been on a see-saw when it comes to weight loss (up down up down up down) and I figured if I wanted it to stick, I had to promise myself never to compromise on the quality of what I ate just to save a calorie or two. So I threw myself into cooking from scratch. I became totally invested in using quality ingredients, honing my skills, trying new things…and it really did make a difference. I found that when I put so much effort into what I was making, my first instinct wasn't to set a speed-eating record by inhaling it all in under two minutes, but to savor and appreciate every bite, and therefore eat less. Genius, no?

Bread was one of those things that I was unwilling to compromise on. Lite bread? Those paper thin slices of...whatever? Surely you jest. Real bread with its crackly crust and creamy crumb? Oh yeah. Carbs? Please sir, can I have some more? I hadn't baked bread in YEARS and was a bit leery about jumping right in without  dabbling a bit first, so I started with Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day. Oh, stop rolling your eyes. I know it gets a lot of flack from "serious" bakers, but honestly? It's an awesome book. It takes the intimidation factor—and baking bread can be intimidating—out of the equation and makes fresh, homemade bread completely accessible. I was so happy with the results that it didn't take long before I started exploring further. Which led me to Peter Reinhardt's Artisan Breads Every Day and…(cue Darth Vader theme) SOURDOUGH. Yup, I went straight from Bread in 5 to sourdough. I nurtured my starter lovingly and baked every weekend. Frankly, my first attempts were…not good. But I stuck with it, kept tweaking the formula to my liking and ended up with bread that I was rightly proud of. (Sadly, my starter died an ignominious death post-Superstorm Sandy, when we lost power for 10 days and I sort of forgot about it. Let's just say it was colorful when I discovered it. Yes, colorful. And fuzzy. Very fuzzy.)

Since those early experiments, I've been completely sucked in by baking bread. When my daughter moved to her own apartment, I turned her room into my baking pantry. It's filled with flours, bannetons, Cambros, a proofer, boxes of parchment and bread bags, pans, cast-iron pots, two mixers (a Hobart-era Kitchen Aid and my beloved Electrolux Assistent), books, you name it. I love taking classes just for the fun of it, including spending a week's worth of Saturdays (in full cheffy regalia I might add) at the French Culinary Institute's Artisan Bread course. I'm hoping to visit King Arthur Flour in Vermont soon and my dream vacation would be spent at the San Francisco Baking Institute. Obsessed much?

I love being able to share what I bake, especially since I bake a LOT and eat what I bake somewhat sparingly (those Weight Watchers Points do add up—but it's oh so worth it). I'm always giving away big loaves to family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, strangers on the street… It's truly a labor of love.

So why a blog? I'm doing this mainly as a personal journal. Typing on the computer is much easier for me than writing with pen and paper (and the dog can't eat it, which she keeps doing with my notebooks). It's taken me a while to get started and this is my SECOND domain name (because 5 minutes after I registered the first, I decided I hated it). I'm calling it A Shaggy Dough Story because A. I'm sure every baker knows about shaggy dough–and the miraculous way it transforms into the perfect bread, and 2. because it's a play on the old "shaggy dog story," those long-winded, meandering and seemingly pointless tales. (Long winded? Meandering? Guilty. Pointless? Well…I hope not.) Will anyone read it, other than my family (maybe) and my friend Chris (who very kindly and patiently indulges my weirdness)? I have no idea. If you do stumble upon it, I hope you'll comment (be nice…I'm teetering on the brink of sanity here) and come back often.

I can't close out this inaugural post without paying tribute to two blogs that helped inspire this one. First is Lindsay Ostrum's Pinch of Yum, which really has nothing to do with bread at all but is just an all-around delightful blog. Not only have I made many of Lindsay's wonderful recipes but I've learned so much from her blog as well. Second is Karen Kerr's Karen's Kitchen Stories. I don't remember how I found Karen's blog, which DOES focus on bread among other things, but reading her blog gave me the push to start my own baking adventure—working my way through Ken Forkish's Flour Water Salt Yeast (more on that later). I also love her photography (and Lindsay's!) and have baked several of the bread recipes she's posted, with much success. Thanks to both of you!

And with that, I'll shut up.

Okay, I lied. It's about the photos. They suck. REALLY suck. At least, right now they do. I've got this spiffy Canon 60D and a bunch of lenses and lights and props and whatnot but it's been a while since I used them and I'm out of practice. So most of what you'll see here, for the first few posts at least, is from my iPhone. Not that you can't get great pix from an iPhone, but… I'm hoping to improve my photography along with my bread. Hang in there, unknown readers! As soon as I can find a cat-free zone where I can set up a mini-studio (not easy with 3, all of whom INSIST on sitting right on top of whatever it is I'm working on at any given moment) I'll get on it.

And NOW I'm done. I think…